Tuesday, November 11, 2008

Elections writ small

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Amidst all the hoopla of a major national election and all that entails, it is sometimes easy to forget that democracy is about a lot more than just electing a president. It is also about electing all those people who actually keep things functioning - the ones who make sure the schools run well, that the garbage gets picked up on time, that your streets are filled with endless construction "for the good of the town" for six months before any election...

Today municipal elections are being held all over Israel. Citizens throughout the country are choosing their mayor and town or city council members. It is a two-pronged system - the mayor is chosen individually and the council is chosen via list. You vote for a list of candidates (members of a particular national, or often strictly local, party). The number of candidates receiving seats is determined by their proportional share of the vote. Since it is almost unheard of for any one list to receive a clear majority, the actual government is made up of whatever coalition of various groups the new mayor (or prime minister, since our national government is a coalition one as well) can cobble together.

Elections in my small city are surprisingly acrimonious, with poisonous mud flung in all directions as everyone tries to grab that piece of the pie. It bothered me more until someone explained to me years ago that these same men (for yes, they're all men at the top of the list in this town) have been fighting and slinging that same mud at each other since they were schoolchildren. The accusations on all sides are serious, and I'm sure the truth lies somewhere in between, but at least this year I felt my vote was clear. The incumbent may have a lot of enemies, and he may or may not have a penchant for strong-arm tactics, but so far it's all rumor and innuendo, and I haven't seen anyone else behaving much better. At least this guy is fixing the things that *I* believe were wrong with the city - the schools are vastly improved, particularly ours, the town's infrastructure has been upgraded, there are now flowers everywhere, a lot of dead weight was culled out of city hall (that one right there created half the enemy list), things here are BETTER than they were. The city LOOKS good now, inviting, like a place that you would want to live, and sure enough people are noticing, and coming. There are new restaurants, good ones, sprouting up like mushrooms. People are actually coming here from other towns to go out for Friday breakfast now. Imagine that. When I moved in about thirteen years ago there wasn't a cafe to be had, and now I have my choice of about 8 within a reasonable walking distance. The quality of the special education services too has surprised me for the better at every turn.

Whether I love him or hate him is irrelevant though. What is important is that I put my money where my mouth is and exercised my civic duty to vote. Not just for the big sexy national elections, but for the little ones that in their own way have just as much, or more, influence on my day to day life.

So I voted this morning. Or rather, my son did (yes, he of letter-writing fame). Which you would see here if he wasn't so impatient to vote that he stuffed the two envelopes into the ballot box and started to move away before I managed to snap the shot. (Yes, they let him go behind the curtain with me. He read the slips of paper, chose the correct ones, put them in the envelopes, sealed those envelopes, and then stuck them in the ballot box - by himself, as his proud mama looked on.)

You can't see him actually cast my his our vote, but at least you can see his bright red shirt.
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Any questions? Go ahead and ask 'em. I'm still welcoming blog fodder after all, despite my burying my request under new posts.

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16 comments:

Gattina said...

I am not allowed to vote in Belgium. For that I have to take the belgian citizenship. But I can vote for the city. (the garbadge responisbles, lol)

Paz said...

Good luck with the elections. It's great your son is learning his civic duty at a young age. Love the red shirt. ;-)

Happy Ruby Tuesday!

Paz

Maribeth said...

Oh I love it! He looks so proud of himself!

Dawn on MDI said...

I used to be a reporter covering small town stuff here in Maine. So many people just turn out for the big, sexy presidential ballot every four years, but if the truth be known, the local five-member board of selectmen have more impact on people's daily lives year in and year out than the president does. These are the people who compile and propose the municipal budget, the school budget, the plan to repair roads and buildings that the town owns. Here in New England, that board also decides how much sand and salt the town will stockpile in advance of winter. If they put up too much they are upbraided for being too fast and loose with taxpayer funds, if they are more conservative and get stuck two snowstorms short, they are criticized as miserly and short-sighted. In the latter case, the daily commute of hundreds, if not thousands, of people is affected.

With fuel prices doubling in recent years, the people on those boards are the ones who decide to turn back the thermostats in the schools and town offices, to cancel field trips (fuel costs) and to drop athletic and arts programs because so much money has to go to keeping the pipes from freezing.

Local folks for some reason don't think voting in municipal elections is important like a presidential election, but if anything, it is more so. These are the people who make sure your streets are safe to walk (and drive) and your kids get a decent education. What is more important than that?

ellen b. said...

Hi Robin,
You have a cute little voter there! Thanks for your visit...

Mojo said...

I have beaten this same drum for a long time now, and made a big point of it just before our national elections. On the ballot here were seats for judges, city council, county commissioners... all kinds of positions and people who probably have more of an impact on our day-to-day lives than the President or representatives in Congress. These are the elections that "get things done" in our world, and they're at least as important as the high profile races.

Unfortunately, these races are usually won by the candidate who can place the most yard signs. They're won on name recognition pure and simple. The public at-large doesn't even know who these people are, and in most cases have only a vague idea what they do!

So good for you not only to make the effort to educate yourself, but to educate your son as well. Because an uninformed vote is often worse than no vote at all.

Pia K said...

Nice capture of one happy, produ voter:) I hope the elections go well. Thanks for your visit and have a good RT, Robin!

Pia K said...

Oh, proud voter of course, clumpsy finger on the keyboard...:)

Felisol said...

Dear Robin,
I think you are right. One should judge a tree by its fruit, not promises of an uncertain future.
It's a good thing, democracy, and it leaves us with a huge responsibility.
To get a healthy society one has to think about the common good, not only look out for "What's in it for me?"
I am sure you will continue to have a good place to live in.
From Felisol

Ralph said...

Robin, I her you about elections, local ones especially. In the US, it really is a fight between locals. Of course, at least in Connecticut, most towns have one controlling party. Political machines, whether Republican or Democratic (depending on city/town)are not ideal. As we know, political machines exist to perpetuate their very existance. Not so democratic (small D) in nature...

Yet, in this house we vote every election there is. Perhaps our vote doesn't count for much in the overall scheme. But is our chance to participate, and I have been able to since 1976. It is great that parents take their children to the polls when they vote. The child (cute in your case, BTW) gets the sense that to vote is important. Congrats for exercising your rights!

poppy fields said...

I hope your man wins.

Do you get involved with the PTA kind of actions in your children's schools? Does any mudslinging happen there? Because it sure does here and we are just supposed to be a group of parents fighting for the common interests of our kids...

Robin said...

I'm on the both the class and the school PTA councils. People yell, particularly at the school level, but so far it hasn't been nasty.

Fingers crossed it stays that way.

marLou said...

Hooray for democracy! It's so important the little ones learn how it works (and sometimes not work). But what is important is that learn.

marLou said...

Hooray for democracy! It's so important the little ones learn how it works (and sometimes not work). But what is important is that learn.

Robin said...

Sadly democracy also seems to have bred the idiots who just lit off a full-size fireworks display in the park just one block from my house - at one in the freaking morning! Woke the whole damn neighborhood up. Then capitalized on it by driving around honking. Asshats.

Amazingly, my family seem to have actually slept through - do you realize how loud fireworks are when shot off just a block away and left to echo around a quiet city block?

Still no official word on who won, although from the commotion out there someone obviously knows.

I'm off to lie in bed and stare at the ceiling now.

Dianne said...

our little town is blessedly civil at election time although some of the town meetings can get rowdy

your son is a handsome young man and he looks very pleased.